Okay let’s clear one thing up right now; this is not a blog post about a popular TV show. It’s about a real office…the one belonging to my parents and now to my mother. For the past several months I’ve made it my project to get this room in order. I think the archeologist in me is coming out, as I get a strange thrill from uncovering one artifact after another in this room.
My parents were not tidy people. My grandmother was a very tidy German house-keeper, of the sort that chased pigeons off the front steps, muttering in German about their filthy ways. My mother has plenty of stories of her mother’s obsession with cleanliness, and many a Saturday that she was forced to stay home and clean instead of going out to play with her friends.
So once my mom had her own home tidiness was never a high priority. Our house was always CLEAN, don’t get me wrong, and I was taught at an early age how to make a bed, scrub a bathroom, or vacuum a floor. But a place for everything and everything in its place? Nah.
We lived in a state of barely contained chaos when I was growing up. It never bothered me, because it was normal to me. And really, it wasn’t that bad. We were no different than many Americans, with basements full of mysterious boxes, drawers filled with old coupons, paper clips, broken rubber bands, discarded grocery lists, and expired telephone books; closets filled with old books, papers, orphan mittens and hats long out of style; and always an office with an overflowing desk and documents that no one had examined for the past decade.
In one of those little jokes that life likes to play on us, I married a man that can’t bear disorder and in the course of our lives together I’ve learned to keep things tidy, and in fact have become more organized than he is in some ways. When I would go back to St. Louis to visit my parents the chaos that I never even noticed when I was growing up would frustrate and alarm me. If something should happen, could I find important papers? I worried, but there wasn’t much I could do about it.
When my father went into the nursing home my mother would periodically “hire” one of her grandchildren to clean out the office. They would take the stacks of old papers and magazines and haul them out to the trashcans. It would make a definite difference in the look of the office, but never for very long. In six month that room would be right back to its former state.
Then this fall my mother became ill and spent several months in and out of the hospital and in rehab. On my visits I decided it was time to finally REALLY get the office in shape.
Filing cabinets, drawers, bookshelves and ultimately the closet fell to my merciless axe. I filed the bills; I threw away stacks of ancient paperwork; I discovered missing pictures, wills, documents. And, I found letters from my father to my mother written in various states of sanity. I found letters from my sister and from myself to my parents. I found charming cards from grandchildren and friends. And as I dug deeper I found even more amazing things.
I found my mother’s high school diploma. I found her picture from school in Trier, Germany. I found a series of old passports for both my parents. I found letters that my father wrote to the German government trying to get reparations (unsuccessfully because she was too young when they emigrated) for my mother. And I found even more.
I found a huge stack of documents about my father’s successful quest for a patent on his “Grippem” machine tool invention. I couldn’t bear to throw these away, so back into the closet they went. Heartbreakingly, I found a document from 2003 which was an offer from my mother’s Long Term Care Insurance to update her policy to include in-home care. Sadly, this offer was never acted upon so her LTC policy only covers care in a skilled nursing facility.
So now my parent’s office is a paragon of orderliness. I have a place for my mother to put things that need to be filed and I file them for her when I am in town. I have hanging folders labeled for all of her important papers and I know where to find things if they need to be found. The bookcase contains cook books and magazines and old picture albums. The closet contains the papers and other artifacts of which although obsolete I can’t bear to dispose. There is a large plastic bin containing letters, cards and pictures documenting my parent’s lives.
It was a big project and it’s a relief to have it completed. I feel like I really did dig through two lives. In a strange way I enjoyed imposing my order on something that was so overwhelmingly confused at first. I feel like I know my parents a little better now too, seeing all the little pieces of their life together and spreading it out for examination only made me love them more. Funny how that works.